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Jewels of Elul: Lessons from Parents

Of all relationships, perhaps the most complicated is the one between a parent and child.
[additional-authors]
August 5, 2021

Does the apple fall far from the tree?

Of all relationships, perhaps the most complicated is the one between a parent and child. This dynamic is examined in “Jewels,” a collection of short, inspirational insights from both well-known and under-the-radar personalities who influence our global community.

A program created by Craig Taubman in 2005 for Pico-Union Project, Jewels of Elul looks at perspectives on a particular theme during the 29 days leading up to the High Holy Days, when the tradition is to search our hearts and create opportunities for growth and discovery.  This year’s theme, “Lessons from my Parents,” enlists the writings of such luminaries as interior designer Nate Berkus, Controller Ron Galperin, Congressman Adam Schiff and actor Ben Platt.

Addressing the parent theme, Taubman says in the Jewels introduction:

“Apple seeds do not grow ‘true to type.’ They require pollen from another apple in order to produce fruit, so that a seed planted from one apple may grow into a tree with an entirely different appearance and flavor. This to me is the ultimate lesson of this year’s Jewels. Like the apple, we are given the gift to grow, evolve, nurture and be nurtured—as parents and as children—and be uniquely who we are.”

To receive a Jewel-A-Day email or order booklets, visit jewelsofelul.com.

The following excerpts are republished here by permission.

As a child I once showed up in synagogue with two different shoes. My mother shook her head; “David, on occasion people get confused and wear different socks. But no one wears one brown and one black shoe.”

My mother taught me about appearance, but not the way one might think. As the mother of four boys she fought hard to get us to care about how we looked, that is true. We were taught which colors go together and how to choose clothes. But that was barely the beginning. The real lesson began when at 52 my mother suffered a debilitating stroke.

For the last thirty years of her life she could not speak, could barely read and had a serious cognitive impairment. Yet the dignity of my mother’s bearing remained; she still cared about the clothes she put on and the face she presented to the world. In the Talmud we are told that no student should enter the house of study whose inside is not like his outside. My mother taught me how taking pride in your outside can help fortify your inside. She had strength, courage, a deep, joyous smile and always, two beautiful matching shoes.

This is one story, my story, of how a parent’s example or words influenced a child’s life. What follows are stories from around the globe, from people who are famous and others who are finding their public voice for the first time in these pages. Enjoy, learn and I hope you find them as inspiring as I have.

— Rabbi David Wolpe

 

There was a large shift in my life when I learned my parents had imperfections.

I was told by someone close to me that you’ll have had a successful relationship with your parents if, after they pass, you can look in the mirror and only see the good that was passed down.

I am a product of divorce. My parents’ conflict towards one another was difficult. They shared the bad about each other, but I tried to only acknowledge their strengths. The pain they are in as a result of how they treated each other runs deep in me. I am the product of that pain.

Oftentimes this pain is the motivation for my work. The more work I make, the more I heal. I am grateful to have found dance as it is my vehicle and outlet. It has allowed me to externally create a family of artists needing a sense of belonging.

When I think about what lesson was most learned, it seems to be embracing pain. Use it as a vehicle to share vulnerabilities and foster a community of like-minded people to support one another.

— Jacob Jonas, Director and Choreographer

 

My mother, Juana Sequeira Solis, was a stunning example of resiliency. From a very young age, she instilled in me the desire to serve others, especially among those less fortunate than us. I remember vividly her sending my siblings and me to bring cooked meals to the neighbor’s house down the block because she was worried they were going hungry and wanted to check up on them.

Throughout my public service career, my mother was right by my side cheering me on. I still feel her presence and hear her voice pushing me forward, saying tienes ganas—you have the strength.

Whether opening a housing site or launching a vaccination site, I know my mother is with me, encouraging me to keep fighting so that the values of equity and compassion that she championed in word and deed, can carry us forward in all that we do.

— Hilda Solis, LA County Supervisor

 

Jewel: Love the stranger. Be the stranger.

You shall love the stranger, Abraham shows by example as he washes the sandy feet of his desert visitors and rushes to prepare them a meal.

You shall become the stranger, God warns him. Your descendants will be strangers in a strange land.

We shall love the stranger, Moses reveals as a core component of ethical monotheism as the Commandments are given at Sinai.

We shall become the stranger, R’ Yochanan Ben Zakkai tells the students at Yavneh as Jerusalem burns and Diaspora Judaism begins.

Love the stranger, my father urges, as he remembers how his childhood Shabbat table was incomplete without a guest.

I have become the stranger, my father says with his eyes, as what he has seen keeps a part of him back from the world of the living.

My father felt compelled to champion human rights and to treat people well in his everyday life. He lived what it meant to love the stranger.

And he insisted that being a Jew and living a Jew life were at the root of who he was, and dreamed of the same for me. He taught me the joy and pride in being in the 0.2% of the population, the stranger among nations.

May I follow ever deeper in his footsteps on both of these paths.

— Elisha Wiesel

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